Billy Williams of the Chicago Cubs swings and watches the flight of his ball during a spring training Major League Baseball game. Williams played for the Cubs from 1959-74. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
I decided to do something a little different with this one. Up to now (with one exception) I had limited the recap years to the 1985-2002 period; the reason for choosing those was that it immediately predates the creation of my original Cubs blog in 2003, and starts right after the first postseason appearance in the divisional play era.
Today, I asked the random number generator to give me a date from the years 1967-73 -- that is, the seven-season era of Cubs contention for a pennant or division title in which they never made it, but the players of that era are still beloved.
As it turned out, this was a good one. (And yes, I know the photo doesn't specifically match the date of the game, which was a road game, but the player depicted had a key role.)
After near-misses for the NL East title the last two years for the Cubs, this season has felt like a return to the pre-1967 era; a 2-2 start followed by nine losses in 12 games buried this year's edition pretty deep in the division early. Last place by April 24 and attendance at the last home game on May 2 -- a Sunday -- was just 9,585. Are we headed back to the old days?
Maybe not. Early, though, is what it still is; there are 131 games left and after tonight's 6-2 dismantling of the Phillies, maybe there's still some hope. Ron Santo and Billy Williams both homered in a four-run third inning that put the game away; no one scored after that, and Bill Hands finished up a five-hit, no-walk, five-strikeout complete game in a quick two hours and 23 minutes. The only extra-base hit he allowed was a double to Larry Bowa. Our old pal Dick Selma -- remember him? -- threw an inning of scoreless relief; he seems buried at the back end of the Phillies bullpen and I wonder how much longer he'll be around.
Good news: Randy Hundley was back in the lineup tonight after missing a month. Even though he went 0-for-3, it was good to see him behind the plate and I'm sure Hands appreciated his pitch calling. The Cubs need him to stay healthy.
The Cubs are still 6½ games out of first place. That may seem like a lot, but remember the Mets came from farther behind, much later in the season, to catch the Cubs two years ago. And yes, it still hurts. I wonder how long it will feel this way? If this year's Cubs team can come back and win it all, or maybe next year, maybe it won't feel so bad.
What's weird, even though there has been AstroTurf in stadiums for six years since the Astros first put it in, is seeing these fields with nothing more than dirt "cutouts" around the bases. Doesn't anyone have any feel for the history of the game any more? Will all stadiums someday give in to the artificial turf trend?